Good mental health care is crucial for a man going through a divorce. It is important he is mindful of his own health and that of his children. Going through a divorce will probably be one of most the stressful events of a man’s life. It is especially important that he take precautions to monitor his stress.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) men are much less likely than women to admit they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or other stress-related mental illnesses. They are much more likely to be affected by the stigma associated with mental illness and to avoid seeking treatment.
Mental Illness Stigma Prevents Men from Seeking Help
Men may be reluctant to consider the fact that they may be suffering from depression or another stress-related mental illness when going through a divorce. Many men fall prey to society’s unspoken attitude that a man should remain strong and silent about his mental health. Doing so can have disastrous consequences for men undergoing the stress of a divorce and can create unnecessary problems for him and his children in the aftermath of the divorce. Stress can lead to depression and anxiety for both him and his children for years after the divorce is final.
Men must be proactive in monitoring their own stress and that of their children while going through a divorce. Waiting too long can worsen any mental illness and its consequences. Often, the illnesses don’t just go away. Taking preventive measures such as therapy for themselves, their children, and (if possible) involving their former spouses, is essential for maintaining good mental health during and after a divorce.
NIMH estimates that six million men suffer from depression each year in the United States. Their research has found that men are much less likely than women to get the help they need for psychological problems, and often they will simply try to hide their stress or other health problems like depression. The institute states flatly that men “may be unlikely to admit to depressive symptoms and seek help.”
Children’s Mental Health Must Be Monitored
Mental health problems are often related to stress. Divorces are stressful. Men going through divorces must pay careful attention to their levels of stress both during and after the divorce process. Children too are subject to the same stress as their dads, and dads must step up to ensure that their children’s mental health is monitored and treated as needed during the divorce process and for years after. Ideally, both parents will be involved in ensuring the well-being of their children, but the kids can get lost in the shuffle. If both parents are not willing to be involved, it is up to dads to step up and ensure that both their own and their children’s mental health needs are taken care of as the divorce process unfolds. A good first step is to seek the advice of a primary care physician.
Stress comes in many forms, and often it is not obvious to men that their stress has reached a level where medical help is needed. However, there are warning signs, and men going through divorces are well-advised to pay close attention to those signs and make sure they and their kids receive the medical treatment they need.
Recognizing When Stress Requires Medical Help
Everyone has stress, and not all stress is bad, according to experts, but long-term stress like that brought on by going through a divorce is bad stress. It is a medical problem that needs attention like other medical problems. Such long-term stress can lead to other forms of mental illness like anxiety and depression. It can also make going through a divorce all that much harder.
Men getting divorced should learn to recognize the warning signs that their stress is getting beyond the typical stress brought on by work and family issues that they may have experienced and dealt with in the past. Just like a broken leg, stress and other mental health problems are medical problems and must be dealt with accordingly.
While it would be ideal for both parents and their children to go to therapy to help to recognize and cope with stress during a divorce, it is often not possible for both parents to be involved. Many schools have programs for kids whose parents are getting divorced. If a dad cannot get the other parent involved in therapy, he should consider talking with his children’s school counselor. Stress can have a huge effect on many aspects of kids’ lives, and free help is often available at school. It may even be a good idea for a man getting a divorce to have some sessions with a therapist specializing in children’s mental health issues to help him recognize warning signs in his children and learn ways to help them cope.
Have a Plan in Mind for Dealing with Stress
Like telling your kids you are getting divorced, to begin with, it is a good idea not to wing it when helping your kids cope with stress. It is likely you will be able to help in various ways, but first, you will need to be able to recognize the signs of long-term stress and have some definite coping strategies in mind. It is a good idea at the first signs of stress to let your kids know it’s normal for them to feel what they’re feeling. However, just letting them know it’s all going to be OK and not to worry is not enough. You will need to get some experienced medical help so you can provide your children with ways to deal with their stress. Breathing techniques and talking to a school counselor about what they’re feeling can help children immensely in dealing with the stress brought on by their parents’ divorce and the new lives they will be living.
A man must be able to recognize that there is nothing wrong with his own feelings of stress and not to succumb to the stigma associated with mental illness. Men getting divorced must be able to recognize when their stress has gotten to be too much to deal with alone. A man must be able to recognize symptoms of stress in himself and admit to himself that he may need help. A man going through a divorce should be no more averse to seeking medical help for a mental illness than he should be in seeking help for any other medical problem.
Warning Signs of Stress-Related Mental Illness
Men should be particularly mindful of the following warning signs that their stress has reached a level beyond what they can deal with themselves. These are warning signs that their stress has exceeded what they have been used to dealing with day to day. These warning signs indicate that it may be time to seek help in dealing with stress.
The following warning signs are the most common ones. They are an excellent starting point for a dad going through a divorce who needs to reflect on his and his children’s levels of stress.
The National Institute of Mental Health advises men to look for the following signs that stress could lead to a long-term condition:
- Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
- Increased worry or feeling stressed
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people
Once a man has identified any of these signs, a good resource for local options for finding help is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline. NAMI offers great help for a man going through a divorce who needs to find medical help for his stress, other related problems, or even just a group of other men with similar issues to talk with. Talking with others with similar challenges helps men realize they are not alone, and just sharing their stories with others can be of significant therapeutic value in dealing with mental illness.
Mental illness refers to some form of psychopathology that makes the mind function differently. It is a broad term that encompasses many types of diagnoses, from chemical imbalances like bipolar disorder to personality disorders like narcissism or borderline personality disorder. Divorces carry a certain degree of stress and strife. It…
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As a dad going through a divorce, telling your kids may not be the first thing you think about, but it’s one of the most important things you will have to do as you begin the divorce process. You will have many personal issues to occupy your time and mind, but you can’t forget that your kids are going through a divorce too. Issues involving kids and divorce require special care. It’s crucial that you dedicate the time to telling your kids about what is happening in a way that will best serve them.
Don’t Put Off Telling the Kids
It’s easy to put thoughts of the kids and divorce aside while handling the seemingly more complex and pressing legal, financial and logistic issues that typically surround a divorce. The kids, however, are very aware of what is going on between their parents and what changes are taking place in their lives. Kids have many questions, concerns and needs of their own. They will rely on you to be there for them to help them through the separation and divorce, and to help them adjust to their new life.
Advocates for children agree that it is important for parents to let their kids know what is happening as early in the divorce process as possible. The kids should also be assured and re-assured that their feelings and questions matter. Children of parents who are divorcing should hear from their parents that they may express their feelings and ask questions at any point in the process. As a dad going through a divorce, you should be ready to answer those questions about kids and divorce, and to provide assurance and comfort your kids.
Kids Need To Be Able To Ask Questions
While kids should not have to worry about their parents’ legal issues and personal disagreements, things do happen in the heat of the moment. It’s important that the kids not feel as if they are caught in the middle of something over which they have no say or as if they are being placed on the sidelines. Your kids must feel that it’s OK to tell you what they think and be made comfortable enough with what’s going on to ask you any questions they may have.
Plan Carefully How and When to Tell the Kids
First impressions make a huge difference with kids and divorce. What parents first tell their children about the separation and divorce is likely to be the kids’ first definite impression of their new life. You should carefully plan how and when to tell the kids, and to coordinate with your spouse if it’s at all possible. Kids being told about their parents’ plan to divorce for the first time by their parents is an event they will remember vividly for the rest of their lives. With kids and divorce, the kids are not a side issue, and you should not try to wing it.
As a dad, you may be miserable yourself from going through the divorce. It may be difficult to focus on both the kids and the divorce. Regardless of your emotions, you should try to provide a consistent, positive message to the kids. Ideally, your spouse will be “on board” with you, providing the same positive message through the divorce process. Even if this is not the case, then you as their dad can be the one to provide that message, and to rise above any acrimony between you and your spouse.
Ideally, both parents will agree to put aside their differences and tell the kids together, according to guidelines provided by the Kids First Center in Portland, Maine. This provides a sense of security for the kids, letting them know that both their parents will continue to cooperate in their care, and both parents will remain in their lives. This may be the hardest part of dealing with kids and divorce, but it is the most important part, and experts advise you to put aside any negative emotions and “be there” to tell the kids.
Kids and Divorce: Be a Well Prepared Dad
A well-prepared dad should be ready to answer questions from your children. Your kids may ask any of the following questions, according to the Kids First Center’s book “Kids First: What Kids Want Grown-Ups to Know about Separation & Divorce.” It is a good idea to rehearse answers to these and similar questions about kids and divorce:
- Where will I live and who will take care of me?
- Where will each parent live?
- When will I see each parent?
- Will I be at the same school?
- Do you guys still love each other?
Having answers ready for these and other inevitable questions from your kids may also give you the chance to work out some issues, things you may not have thought about yet yourself.
When telling the kids, keep the message simple. Don’t blame the other parent or go into the legal details of the divorce. It’s hard enough for you to deal with kids and divorce on a practical level, never mind trying to explain the legal divorce process to the kids. Be ready to tell the kids where the pets will live, but avoid discussion of mediation, custody and similar topics. Reassure the kids and let them know they will still be loved by both parents. Only tell the kids what you know for sure, and try to slowly introduce them to the changes coming in their lives.
“Focus on the important details,” says Nici Carbone, executive director of the Kids First Center. “That you love them, and it’s not their fault.”
“Focus on the important details,” says Nici Carbone, executive director of the Kids First Center. “That you love them, and it’s not their fault.”
You should let them know there isn’t anything they can do to change what is happening between their parents. Make sure you let the kids know they are free to express any feelings they have about what is happening, both now and in the future.
“Give them as much information as is appropriate and that they can understand based on their ages.” They should be told what will happen regarding living arrangements, school, and the like.
Leave out the adult-specific details and information about other details not important for kids and divorce. For example, Carbone says, they don’t need to hear about a parent’s frustration with the other parent over money issues, affairs, or how many times the other parent has made them go to court.
Try to use examples of the families the kids know who have been through divorces and for whom things have worked out well.
After telling the kids, you will have a lot of issues to deal with, including getting yourself back on your feet. It’s important you don’t involve the kids in any ensuing drama, tempting as that may be.
Never Let the Kids be the Go-Between
Using your kids as messengers to deliver messages to the other parent is number one on the list of don’ts for dads going through divorces, according to M. Gary Neuman’s Sandcastles Program. Neuman is the author or of “Helping Your Kids the Sandcastles Way,” a popular book on kids and divorce. The book and program are designed for kids, 6 – 17, whose parents are going through a divorce.
When you’re dealing with divorce or separation and are not communicating well with your spouse, using your kids as messengers can let your kids know about things going on between their parents that are not appropriate for them to hear. It also places unnecessary stress on the kids. In addition, messages may not be accurately exchanged. Find an alternative way. Exchanging messages by e-mail and texting are perfectly good ways to communicate that don’t involve your kids.
Don’t Trash the Other Parent to the Kids
Never bad-mouth the other parent in front of your kids. While dealing with kids and divorce raises everyone’s hackles, disparaging the other parent can only raise your kids’ stress and confusion when you say bad things about your ex to them, someone who is not an ex to them, but someone they still love and respect. If you feel the need to vent about your ex to your kids, get a therapist specializing in divorce issues including those involving kids and divorce.
Keep Trying To Put Your Kids First
“It’s hurtful for a parent to speak negatively of their other parent,” says Carbone. “Children want to love their parents freely no matter what has happened. Bringing them into the discussion about what happened and how it is playing out doesn’t help them.” Dads dealing with kids and divorce should remember, even when it gets hard, to keep putting their children first.
Finally, don’t be afraid to tell your kids you’re sorry. It’s tempting to take out some of the frustration you feel on your kids. After, when you are calmer, tell them you’re sorry. You can’t take back things you said to your kids in anger, but saying you’re sorry can go a long way toward making things right between kids and their dads.
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